Minister of Health, Osagie Ehanire, said authorities were “adopting a watchful, waiting posture.”
This online newspaper understands that the Omicron variant, first detected in South Africa, is believed to be highly transmissible, but it is not yet clear how deadly it is to public health.
The World Health Organization has listed Omicron as a “variant of concern” and countries around the world are now restricting travel from southern Africa, where the new strain was first detected and taking other new precautions.
On Sunday, Canadian authorities said the country had detected its first cases of the new strain of in two people who had traveled recently to Nigeria.
But members of the PSC said they were waiting on their Canadian counterparts for more details since there are no direct flights between Nigeria and Canada.
Meanwhile, the WHO believes the world must study the wreckage of Covid-19 and say “never again” by striking a pandemic preparedness treaty.
Director-General of the WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Monday said another disastrous pandemic was bound to happen unless countries showed the resolve to strengthen global defences.
Nations are meeting in Geneva from Monday to Wednesday to discuss an international agreement setting out how to handle the next pandemic — which experts fear is only a matter of time.
This handout picture made available by the World Health Organization (WHO) on November 29, 2021 shows WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus addressing the special session of the World Health Assembly in Geneva. Christopher Black / World Health Organization / AFP.
The gathering comes with the planet still besieged by Covid-19, nearly two years on from the first cases recorded in China, and now shaken by Omicron/
WHO member states reached a consensus Sunday on kick-starting the process towards a pandemic treaty.
The draft decision was secured after countries agreed to compromise — notably the United States, which is luke-warm on whether the outcome needs to be a legally-binding treaty.
The decision is expected to be formalised on Wednesday.
Shadow of Omicron
“The emergence of the highly-mutated Omicron variant underlines just how perilous and precarious our situation is,” Tedros told world leaders at the start of the three-day gathering.
“Omicron demonstrates just why the world needs a new accord on pandemics.
“Omicron’s very emergence is another reminder that although many of us might think we’re done with Covid-19, it’s not done with us.
“It will all happen again unless you, the nations of the world, can come together to say with one voice: never again.”
This meeting of the World Health Assembly — the WHO’s decision-making body comprising all 194 member states — is an unprecedented special session on how to handle the next pandemic.
It should thrash out how far countries are prepared to go towards legally-binding commitments on issues like equitable vaccine distribution, knowledge-sharing, financing and oversight structures, with any final deal due to come into force in 2024.
A key issue down the line could be whether countries want beefed-up powers for the WHO to investigate the sources of outbreaks. Tedros said the lack of data-sharing early in the Covid pandemic had been a hindrance.
“One of the expectations of this treaty is to be able to improve the WHO’s capacity to monitor and assess the situation in countries: the investigative power of WHO,” a French diplomatic source said.
Chilean President Sebastian Pinera said the world was unprepared for Covid-19 and “for that weakness, we all paid a great price.”
“Steps must be taken to ensure that this will not happen again, that when the next pandemic comes, and it will come, it will find us better prepared,” he said.
Under the draft decision, WHO member states agree to establish an intergovernmental negotiating body “to draft and negotiate a WHO convention, agreement or other international instrument on pandemic prevention, preparedness and response”.
The body’s first meeting must be no later than March 1 next year to elect two co-chairs and four vice-chairs.
A progress report will be presented at the regular World Health Assembly annual gathering in 2023, with the final outcome presented for consideration at the 2024 WHA.
European Council President Charles Michel, who first got the ball rolling on a pandemic treaty, said: “I hope we will make history. The situation in the world demands it.
“Yesterday’s informal agreement is a huge step, and now it’s time to capitalise on this momentum to make the world a safer place.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel called for reform of how countries fund the WHO so it can react more flexibly to crises.
“Measures for better prevention and response to pandemics should be laid down in a pandemic treaty, binding under international law,” she said.
Swiss Health Minister Alain Berset said the world needed to take immediate, bold action, as he called for a legally-binding instrument.
“The issues at stake are too important. We don’t have the right to fail,” he said.